The “Disaster as Divine Opportunity” Paradigm Must Die

Earlier today the online wing of Christianity Today [edit: I’ve since been told that the blog is sponsored by Leadership Magazine, which is owned by, but not entirely the same as, Christianity Today], via its “Out of Ur” blog, shared a post entitled “Horror and Hope in Japan”.

In my opinion, this kind of crap points to exactly why the E-word has become so tarnished. This post explicitly describes the carnage and suffering of the recent quakes and tsunami in Japan as a God-ordained opportunity for evangelism. Yuck.

I admit, the worldview represented by such an assertion is fairly prevalent, even today. It is a powerful paradigm with lots of history behind it. But in my opinion – my strongly convicted opinion – this paradigm must die.

Please don’t misrepresent my intent – I’m not even remotely suggesting that Christians the world over should not be praying with, caring for, and helping in any way possible the people affected by the recent quakes & tsunami. Certainly we need to be God With Skin On, doing whatever we can to express, share and embody God’s love in the midst of this ongoing tragedy. Of course we should. Of course we must.

Instead, the issue I take with this post and the worldview it represents is this: it presumes that a natural disaster and the attendant suffering and death of thousands of people were engineered by God to give missionaries and evangelists an opportunity to turn “the largest unreached nation in the world” into pliable Christians.

I’m in agreement with the vast majority of people who’ve left comments to the post as of this writing. It is offensive, presumptuous, in horrible taste, and utterly wrong-headed to paint God, Christians, Evangelists – and particularly the people directly affected by the disaster – in the putrid light of this paradigm.

The sad thing is, 90% of what is expressed in the post is wonderful. And I don’t doubt for a second that it is ALL intended as a sincere expression of love & sympathy for our fellow human beings. But to employ that tired old crap about God causing disasters in order to teach lessons and then to top it off by proudly proclaiming that “A massive earthquake or a nuclear missile from North Korea topped the list of possible devastating ways the Lord might awaken that nation that I love” is nothing but presumptuous bull.

Personally, I really can’t bring myself to believe that this is the way God works. Maybe some of you do, and maybe we can talk about it sometime and you’ll teach me something I’m missing. But even in the event that God *IS* the kind of capricious deity who causes natural disasters to prove points and provide “opportunities”, I can’t imagine that going around telling the victims of natural disasters so would be a useful way to share God’s love and ease their suffering.

In other words, treating people in pain like wayward children who needed the pain in order to wake up and listen to the good news you have to tell them is utterly useless. And for my money, it is quite possibly evil. Jesus never behaved that way in any account we have of him and in fact, quite the opposite. He became a servant. He shared their suffering, their pain, their fears of death and anguish.

Wanna be an evangelist? I say this is how to do it: Shut your insensitive mouth, stop presuming you’ve got something “they” don’t, wade into the mess with people and be God With Skin On.

 

avatar About Bruce Laverman

Bruce is a retired pastor and former Director of Evangelism in the Reformed Church in America now living in Phoenix, Arizona. He is the RCA's representative to Evangelism Connections and serves as Managing Editor of this Web site.

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